For the first time in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 30 years of ranking the World’s Top 100 wines, a wine from Paso Robles made the Top 10.
Austin Hope 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is No. 10 in the magazine’s 2019 ratings. Hope Family Wines president and winemaker Austin Hope said when I met him at the winery’s tasting cellar that the ranking is extremely gratifying and humbling, and he couldn’t be prouder of the Paso Robles region. “It’s been becoming more and more on the world stage,” he said, “but this really solidified how Paso is a world class winemaking region.”
His family started farming wine grapes in Paso Robles in 1978 and began producing their own wines in 1996. “And so, for us it’s our life passion and drive, and everything we’ve strived to do is to make Paso be a worldwide name,” he said.
Two wines from Santa Barbara County are in the magazine’s Top 100. Holus Bolus 2017 Presqui’le Vineyard Syrah, produced by a boutique winery in Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto, is No. 21. Margerum Wine Co.’s 2018 Sybarite sauvignon blanc from Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara is No. 60.
Hope said the namesake cabernet sauvignon was a seven-year project that made its debut in 2015. The 2017 cabernet is sourced from highly targeted vineyard blocks in five of Paso Robles’ 11 sub-AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas.
“Each one of these sub-AVAs will grow cabernet that will taste different,” Hope said. “So, for example, the El Pomar will have more acidity and more tannin when it’s done properly. And the Estrella and Geneseo areas will have not quite as much tannin and they’ll have more fruit driven qualities.”
The choice of blocks within vineyards for the project was very soil-driven and temperature-driven, he said. Exposure to the sun was important. In a sub-AVA that gets hotter, they chose north-facing blocks that get less heat accumulation. In a cooler area like El Pomar, they selected blocks on south-facing slopes to get a little more heat over the season.
The goal was to create the standard for luxury cabernet in Paso Robles, Hope said. It’s priced at $50 to $60 but is comparable to a $100 to $200 wine according to benchmarks they’ve studied, he said.
“One of the biggest things that really excites us is to be able to over-deliver to a customer. I think it’s so important,” he said. “Consumers are able to, whether it be a $15 bottle of Liberty School (their high volume label) or a $60 bottle of Austin Hope, they should feel like they’ve got a value.”
Wines from Top 100 lists are often sold out by the time of publication, but the Austin Hope cabernet is available in 50 states, at the winery and in many restaurants, Hope said, with production at around 20,000 cases.
“We wanted to be able to grow this brand and to be able to offer it to more than just a handful of people,” he said.
Hope Family Wines has a family of labels that includes Liberty School, Treana, Troublemaker, Quest and Austin Hope. Their estate vineyard in the Templeton Gap AVA is planted with 40 acres of Rhone grapes, but their sources go far beyond that. They have contracts with 50 growers for blocks they chose, all of them certified sustainable. The winery’s in-house team supervises the farming.
Liberty School is their longstanding volume brand of cabernet sauvignon with production of 160,000 cases. Treana is their mid-price label at $25 to $30 a bottle. Hope said his family was one of the first in California to make an unconventional red blend of cabernet and syrah with their 1998 release of Treana Red. The Treana line of 35,000 cases today also includes the white blend Treana Blanc, a cabernet sauvignon and a chardonnay.
Troublemaker is an unconventional blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, petite sirah and zinfandel that it launched before red blends became hot, Hope said. Quest is a newer label that showcases Paso’s Bordeaux varieties in a blend and it’s their only wine to use all American oak for a distinctive flavor profile.
Austin Hope’s father and mentor, Chuck Hope, is one of the founders of the Paso Robles Vintners’ and Growers’ Association. Austin has followed that example with years of service on the board of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. He has been chair, vice chair and is currently finishing the year as secretary. In January, he was recognized as Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year at its annual gathering.
Hope said his philosophy is to support the region with the same enthusiasm as promoting his own wines.
“We want to be the best and we want to be great, but at the end of the day we want Paso — this is our home and our place — and we want everybody to rise.”
NO. 21 WINE
This year marks the second time that a Holus Bolus syrah, produced at a 2,500-case winery in Lompoc, has ended up high in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100. Holus Bolus is one of several labels with fanciful names originated by married couple Peter Hunken and Amy Christine. Their 2017 Holus Bolus Syrah from Presqui’le Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley is No. 21 on this year’s list. In 2014, a Holus Bolus syrah from John Sebastiano Vineyard was No. 6.
Hunken said it’s great to see a syrah from the area getting that kind of attention. He credits the Presqui’le Vineyard, with its sandy soils and marine influence, for the high rating of the cool climate syrah.
“We always joke it’s the only vineyard that when we’re walking through it sampling the grapes before harvest that the grapes actually taste like the final wine. They’re very spicy and peppery, which is really cool,” he said.
The Holus Bolus name (meaning all at once) and the signature octopus on the label refer to the coastal influence on the wines and the winery’s reaching out to buy grapes from different vineyards. Three main sources for Holus Bolus under evergreen contracts are Presqu’ile, John Sebastiano and Bien Nacido vineyards.
In the first 13 years of the couple’s business, purchased grapes were the source for wines. In 2014, they secured a long-term lease and planted a 5-acre vineyard on a hillside near Lompoc that had been a cow pasture.
They named it The Joy Fantastic Vineyard, a reference to an obscure album by Prince called Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. Amy is a huge fan of the late singer, Hunken said.
They have a line of pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah from the vineyard under The Joy Fantastic label. Other wines from purchased grapes have fanciful labels including Hocus Pocus, Genuine Risk and Cafe Society.
“We’re trying to move toward a slightly more singular branding with Holus Bolus being the primary brand,” Hunken said.
Peter and Amy opened a tasting room in Los Olivos in September. They continue to pour at their Lompoc winery as well.
Peter learned his craft as an assistant at Stolpman when Sashi Moorman was the winemaker there. They partnered to establish the Piedrassasi brand until 2008, when Hunken left to concentrate on Holus Bolus and The Joy Fantastic wines. Amy is one of 13 women in the U.S. to achieve the Master of Wine title. “Her tasting ability is excellent,” Peter said. “She keeps us honest about maintaining our quality, which I appreciate.”
NO. 60 WINE
Margerum Wine Co.’s Sybarite sauvignon blanc is sourced from four vineyards in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Valley’s premiere site for Bordeaux grapes. Sybarite is one of Margerum’s flagship white wines. The 2018 vintage received a 92 point score from Wine Enthusiast.
Veteran winemaker Doug Magerum moved his Margerum Wines tasting room to Santa Barbara’s Hotel Californian near the waterfront in May, featuring mostly Rhone varietals. He retained the space in the historic Presidio District for his Barden Wines, a line of pinot noir, chardonnay and other wines from grapes in the cool climate Santa Rita Hills.
• Contact Tom Bronzini at [email protected]